Published September 16, 2012, 10:15 AM

Bear hunting success is mixed, but some big bruins have been taken in the Northland

Bear hunting success has been mixed so far in Minnesota’s bear season, which opened Sept. 1. But for some hunters, and especially for bear-hunting guides, the season is going well.

By: Sam Cook, Duluth News Tribune

Bear hunting success has been mixed so far in Minnesota’s bear season, which opened Sept. 1. But for some hunters, and especially for bear-hunting guides, the season is going well.

In nine evenings of hunting as of Monday, hunters at Kelly Shepard’s North Shore Outdoors guide service near Tofte had taken 28 bears.

“The biggest dressed at 390 (pounds),” said Shepard, who has been guiding bear hunters for

35 years. “And we just killed one (Sunday) night that weighed 288. A lot of them are dressing at 190 to the low 200s. I’m very happy, and all the clients are.”

The same is true at Udovich Guide Service near Greaney, north of Cook, said Dennis Udovich.

“It’s been pretty good, just like last year,” Udovich said. “We had 13 hunters the first week and got 11 bears.”

His clients took four more bears this past week. The biggest of the season field-dressed at 374 pounds, Udovich said.

The bears had enough natural food, particularly hazelnuts, to keep them in the area, Udovich said. But the baiting required persistence.

“Once we locked them up, we had to stay with them,” he said. “If you let them miss a meal, they’d take off.”

One of the biggest bears registered so far was taken by Jerry Hartmann of Ely, who took a bear that field-dressed at 567 pounds. He was guided by Todd Larson of Basswood Trails Guide Service.

“I’ve never seen a bear that big in Ely,” Larson said. “In 20 years of hunting, that’s the biggest we’ve ever gotten.”

Tuesday morning, Matt Hart, who lives near Three Lakes Road north of Duluth, took a bear that field-dressed at 509 pounds. He weighed the bear at Chalstrom’s Bait and Tackle.

“That bear’s been coming around the last three years, tearing doors off garages,” Hart said. “He was kind of a terror.”

Rob Parrot of Bear Down Guide Service in Twig had 16 clients signed up for this fall’s bear season, but none of them was lucky enough to be selected in the lottery to receive a license. So, Parrot went hunting by himself.

“I had two baits and just baited once a week,” Parrot said. “Normally I bait five to seven times a week. But there’s an abundance of bears around here. I sat for three hours and shot a 250-pound boar.”

His processing service has taken in about a dozen bears for butchering, he said.

Chalstrom’s Bait and Tackle, north of Duluth, has processed 11 bears and registered 15, John Chalstrom said.

“Bear hunting started out pretty good the first few days, then it fell off to nothing,” he said. “We hadn’t seen anything in days. Then we registered two more (on Sunday).”

That’s typical, Chalstrom said.

“That first week, if you’re going to get a bear, that’s when it’s going to happen,” he said. “Once we get into the season, the bears realize they’re being hunted. The bait action goes completely nocturnal.”

Fisherman’s Corner in Pike Lake had registered several bears, Micah Hughes said.

“Personally, I’ve seen more bears than I have other years,” he said. “Some out in the woods, some in town.”

Several Minnesota Department of Natural Resources conservation officers noted in their weekly reports on Monday that bear hunters weren’t having a great amount of success.

Randy Patten, a DNR conservation officer from Northome, said one bear hunter reached “a new low” when he placed a radio about 70 yards from another bear hunter’s bait and turned it on low volume, apparently to frighten off any bears. The second hunter found the radio and removed it. He also shot a bear that he said “danced into the bait,” according to Patten’s report.

A total of 6,000 bear-hunting permits were issued this fall in the quota zone (much of Northeastern Minnesota), down from 7,050 last year and 9,500 in 2010. Hunters took 2,966 bears in 2010 and 2,131 last fall.

Minnesota’s bear population is estimated at about 18,000 animals.

DNR officials reduced the number of permits available this fall in hopes that the bear population will grow a bit, said Dave Garshelis, Minnesota’s bear project leader.

Minnesota’s bear season will continue through Oct. 14.